There are very few experiences that compare to jaywalking in New York. I think it may have taught me more about myself than anything else I've done here. It is a full on battle to get across the street during rush hour in mid-town as it is, but add a red light and people pick up their speed. Cars are not allowed to make right turns on red lights so it is safer to cross on a red than in most cities, but, when the light is green, cars and people are all trying to get through the intersection at once. The winner of this game is the one who approaches their destination with the most commitment. You hesitate, even if you are a car, even if the light is in your favour, then someone else (a bike, a person, a singing Chinese food delivery man on a pink moped) is going in front of you. This get-it-while-you can attitude extends even off the streets - you snooze on anything and someone else has taken it - the apartment, the job, the man, or the last tropical breeze smoothy in the express isle at Jumba Juice. Thanks to this daily exercise of charging across intersections on red lights - mandatory for making rehearsals and auditions on time - I have learned how to occupy space in a committed way. Here is what it feels like to try to get through New York in a hurry:
Just as everything in life relates to the art of acting - so too does this concept of inhabiting space. I have been working really hard on my improv skills and struggling with my ability to stick with my characters after making my initial offers in a scene. I could always make a strong physical, emotional or character choice, but as soon as my scene partner came out with one of his or her own I would slowly morph into whomever they most needed me to be - often losing my own character in the process. AND - surprise surprise - I also have a tendency to do this in life - in personal relationships and, most importantly, when I walk out into intersections. :p
I have started taking a Meisner based course which elevates the ideas of focusing on your scene partner to a whole other level. Oddly - the more I study the phenomenon of training myself to be totally engaged with the other - the more I discover that in order to truly give to the other person you must HOLD ON TO YOUR OWN POINT OF VIEW. Otherwise they have nothing to play off of. Holy shit. Just like real life. Often those who are the greatest gifts to us in our lives are those who push our buttons and piss us off - giving us opportunities to look at ourselves in a new way, and to grow. Sort of like the tourists in New York when they collide with the busy and important people such as myself mid-intersection, or like when the chocolate meets the peanut butter, the republicans meet the democrats, or why Lucy loved Ricky, and Butthead tells Beavis to shuddup but still keeps hanging out with him.
My first Meisner class was really difficult and I almost didn't go back. The partner I was working with was a very angry person - an emotion that I do not do well with on a good day. The Meisner technique is difficult to explain and many people study it for upwards of 10 years before they get it, but I will try to at least explain the repetition and point of view exercises I have done so far: they involve repeating what your scene partner says to you by first taking in their emotional and physical offers and then responding to that with your own point of view while still being wholly effected by the other. On that first day I was also PMSing, had a scene study performance where my 'boyfriend' was attempting to rape me and ends up slapping me, and was recovering from a real-life experience with a 92 year old man who wanted me to rub his titties in exchange for fame and cab fare. I was so worked up that the slightest anger in my partner triggered me and made me cry. I cried right through most of the class and left in the middle of it. It was horrible and humiliating - but honest, and at the end I did feel I was honouring myself and the work.
Luckily I have made a habit of doing things that frighten me so I decided to go back. This time I did not to allow myself to be bullied, or to play the victim to my partner's persecutor. I held onto my point of view while still being sensitive and responsive to that of the other. It was so empowering!
THEN I had a 'comedic character development' class at HB Studios (highly recommend this place - they have a great variety of courses) the one I took was taught by John Charles Muphy who I really really really liked. He was mentored by Michael Chekhov which is pretty incredible. He taught us about 'spheres of awareness' in terms of character development. We did an improvisational technique where we first focused on the space that is within our reach - our bodies, our breath and whatever may be within arm's length. I started by looking at my lips. Then at my cheeks and eyebrows (you can see them from underneath - I never tried this!). Through that process I discovered a character who uses her lips to discover everything - I eventually started chewing my own hair! Then we moved into the second sphere - about 2 meters around us. At that point we started to interact with the other characters around us. Every time I was distracted by the other characters in my space I would start to look at my lips and come back to my character self. It was a real breakthrough for me!
I was worried about New York changing me in a negative way. That this physical toughness would cause me to lose my sweetness, my optimism and my desire to always see the good in people. What I learned is that ultimately, honouring my right to inhabit space is about respecting my self. Speaking up for what I need and what I deserve. Stepping out boldly and with commitment into the street. Finding the spotlight on the stage and occupying it fully with my body and soul.
A friend of mine who is also an entertainer said very clearly to me - it is not enough to WANT to become famous or successful. You have to KNOW you will be and carry that with you through everything you do. In my room in Toronto I have the word KNOW written on my ceiling above my bed. It reminded me every day to COMMIT to taking this all the way. My commitment started as an idea, then turned into an emotional state and has now become something manifesting in the physical. Each day this idea gets closer to being my belief. The signs are all there that things are going to work out for me, and as the character Penny Lane says in one of my favourite movies 'ALMOST FAMOUS': "It's all happening!"
I feel, for the time being, that my work here is done (although I am having chest pains as I write that), and I plan to go back to Toronto in June and stay at least until after TIFF. I am returning home without an agent (mine recently quit representing clients to go back to school), I am unsure about how long it will take me to get my VISA (or where I will find the dough to do it) and yet completely enlightened and full of optimism. I have educated myself and now it is time to put my business skills to work. . . I have, therefore created a series of posters to help me get an agent again in Toronto and to solicit a potential manager in New York. This is the one I am planning to send out.
In the karaoke world I am really almost famous :) I had my first interview today with the documentary film makers for the Hip Hop Karaoke documentary they are shooting. I had a blast at Hip Hop Karaoke NY on Friday - the video is below - I hope you enjoy!!
PS - I just performed with a great group of awesomely talented people at the JCC in Manhattan and Jerry Stiller was in the audience! I will share the video once it goes up online in a week or so. Thank you so much to my friend JJ Adler for inviting me to participate :D